Motul Petit Le Mans: 25 years of action and memories, part 2

Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Motul Petit Le Mans: 25 years of action and memories, part 2

As Motul Petit Le Mans gets ready for its 25th running, Sept. 28-Oct. 1, we’re continuing our look back on a few memorable races and moments from a quarter century of Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta’s season-closing classic.

It’s not just the stars behind the wheel who make Motul Petit Le Mans such a special race. Behind the scenes and at trackside, a huge number of people are involved in putting on one of sports car racing’s biggest, yet most fan-friendly events. Many of them have been putting in the hours, and loving every minute, since the inaugural race in 1998, and some share their memories here, too.

NICK TANDY

2015 overall race winner

It’s perhaps the biggest shock result from a quarter-century of Motul Petit Le Mans: Nick Tandy, Richard Lietz and Patrick Pilet taking their GT Le Mans class-contending Porsche 911 RSR to an overall victory at a deluge-shortened 2015 Motul Petit Le Mans as the headlining Prototype contenders slithered and skidded down the order. Tandy looks back on a very special win…

“The full focus was on taking the GT Le Mans victory and winning the teams’ championship and the drivers’ title for my teammate Patrick [Pilet],” he recalls. “When I took the overall lead before the race was red flagged, the call from the pits wasn’t telling me that I was leading — it was telling me what the gap was to the second-placed GTLM car. Overtaking the Daytona Prototypes was all about getting past slower cars to build an advantage over the people we were really racing with.

“We were quicker than the DPs when the conditions were at their worst. It was a combination of factors: we had the confidential Michelin tires that definitely worked better than their Continentals in those temperatures and with that amount of water; and since a lot of their advantage came on the straights, that disappeared because they couldn’t put the power down.

“It’s only when I look back that I realize what a big deal it was winning overall. I understand now that it’s the outright victory at these big races that really means something in history. I put it up there with my win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans [in an LMP1 Porsche 919 Hybrid] earlier in the year, because there were so many pitfalls and opportunities to make a mistake. I definitely regard it as one of my finest days.”

Nick Tandy celebrates with Patrick Pilet after an incredible upset victory in 2015. Wes Duenkel / Porsche Motorsport

PIPO DERANI

2019 overall race winner

Motul Petit Le Mans has figured large in the racing life of Pipo Derani. In 2019, with fellow Brazilian Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran, he took the overall win, but just missed out on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s DPi title. Last year, he and Nasr settled their unfinished business, clinching the DPi crown in a dramatic finale.  

“We arrived at Petit Le Mans in 2019 with the mentality that we were going to go all out for the win [in the Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R], and whatever happened in the championship so be it, because we were 12 points behind going in. We threw the ball into the court of our rivals at Team Penske and they did enough by playing it safe, but we took the win, so that was some pretty big consolation.

“Winning Petit Le Mans was a big deal for me personally because I’d come so close in the past. With Tequila Patron ESM I’d come close in 2018, when I’d had a puncture, and in ’17 I had contact with a Ford when I was leading as well. We’d been the quickest car all weekend and led a lot of laps, especially in the early hours.

“In 2019, I was right with my teammate Filipe [Albuquerque] when he had a brake issue in the last half hour. I was finally able to get it done, and that meant such a lot to me.

“When you’re in the car you have tunnel vision, but when one of your teammates is driving it’s much worse for the nerves. That made the end of the race in 2021 much harder for me. I’d done my job and the outcome wasn’t in my hands, so I felt a bit useless. But there was always trust between Felipe [Nasr] and myself, and he did what exactly we needed to do by finishing ahead of the Wayne Taylor Racing Acura.”

Pipo Derani lost out to Team Penske in the 2019 title battle at Motul Petit Le Mans, but took the race win. Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images / IMSA

LINDA PLUMMER

Corner worker and race communications

Linda Plummer got the bug to be a corner worker decades ago. Yet when she met her husband, he told her it was too dangerous. Nevertheless, when the opportunity to work a corner at Petit Le Mans came up, she couldn’t resist, even getting him involved.

“I’ve worked every corner of Road Atlanta, except Turn 5,” she says. “I liked working Turns 3 and 11 the best. Over the years, I’ve moved into working with race control on communications.

“A lot of my best memories are from working the night sessions, and the first year the DeltaWing was racing at night it was like seeing something from out of this world. When it came over the crest in Turn 2 down toward Turn 3 it was like an alien flying saucer coming at us. It was so exciting to watch, as are all the cars at night.”

“Alien flying saucer” DeltaWing. Nigel Kinrade / Motorsport Images

Don’t miss the 25th Anniversary Motul Petit Le Mans

The 25th running of Motul Petit Le Mans, Sept. 28-Oct. 1, is set to deliver four days of incredible on-track activity, including the dazzling spectacle of Thursday night practice, where fans are guaranteed to see every car and driver in the field turn at least a few laps.

Take advantage of ample opportunities to park an RV or pitch a tent and become part of the festival atmosphere at one of racing’s most fan-friendly events. As always, there are car corrals, a kids’ zone, mouth-watering manufacturer displays, and an open paddock to check out the racecars between track sessions.

In addition to the headlining 10-hour IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale, the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Series FOX Factory 120 on Friday afternoon showcases an array of the best production sports cars on the planet. If that’s not enough racing, IMSA Prototype Challenge, Porsche Carrera Cup North America and the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich ensure that there’s almost always great on-track action to enjoy.

Tickets start at just $75, with several great options to choose from, and kids under 12 are free. To purchase yours and get more information on one of racing’s must-see events, head to roadatlanta.com.

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